I haven’t seen the full interview Oprah did with the run-away royals, but I’ve been able to sneak a couple peeks through clips here and there. I watched one recently where Prince Harry complained about not being able to get a word with his grandmother, the Queen. She had even cancelled an intended impromptu lunch because she had a schedule conflict.
“But doesn’t the queen get to do what the queen wants to do?” was Oprah’s response. That’s a legitimate question. It would seem, after all, that the ruler of a kingdom and many realms could afford to wake up with no plans whatsoever and just ‘wing’ the day. Everyone else was at her beck and call, so why does she need a schedule?
History is replete with whimsical kings and rulers who allowed no room for self-restraint, but instead gave in to the desires of their base selves; gorging on food, getting drunk with wine, sleeping with a harem full of women, spending lavishly on otherwise guilty pleasures, and, most detrimental, living routine-free. Those rulers didn’t typically spend decades on their thrones.
We all understand that it takes a lot to get to the top, but we often fail to realise that it takes even more effort to stay there. That’s why Oprah’s question would resonate with us: how can you be a queen and still be bound by a schedule? Many of us hustle to make it in life, with the dream that when we finally get to the top of whatever ladder we’re climbing, we’d relax, take things easy, and do whatever we want. But many have gotten there and come to realise that there’s an even greater price to pa, in terms of restraint, to retain that level of freedom.
Yes, you’d have the means to do whatever you want, whenever you want, and to or with whomever you want. You may get away with it too. But those actions, one after another, only smoothen your decline right back to the bottom. It always happens gradually but would appear to be sudden, due to your self-indulgent obliviousness. A little sleep here, a little slumber there. A little folding of your hands to do nothing, and it’ll come upon you as suddenly as an armed man. At least one or two members of the Queen’s family have had that story to tell.
She had to be even more careful than the rest of us. Rising to the top in her line of work only requires being born, not much effort. So you can imagine that it’d be fitting to think that not much effort would be required to remain on top either. At least we on the outside would think that. It’s certainly what a lot of us are currently thinking about the new king, even though he’s probably being surprised anew by the enormity of the work he’s just inherited.
With great power comes great responsibility. Rising to the top of any pursuit gives you some measure of power, even if not over kingdoms and realms. Fulfilling the accompanying responsibilities is what helps you to retain that power, and remain on top. Responsibilities are not fulfilled by getting to do what you want to do. They’re fulfilled by conforming yourself to doing what you have to do. The Queen got to do what a queen has to do to remain the queen. Like a swan, seventy years on the throne may have looked graceful and elegant on top. But below, she was paddling swiftly, frantically, and consistently to stay afloat and keep her momentum. That’s what sustained success looks like — a paddling that never stops.